Nigeria Cracks Down on Illegal Lithium Mining

06:02 June 6, 2024

Nigeria Cracks Down on Illegal Lithium Mining

Since April, Nigeria’s government has been arresting illegal miners for reportedly stealing lithium.

Lithium is a metal that is used to make batteries for electric vehicles and many electronic devices.

Nigeria is making an effort to regulate its mining operations. The country also aims to deal with illegal activity and to profit from its mineral resources. Demand for lithium, tin, and other minerals has increased.

Illegal mines are common in the West African country’s growing mining industry. Corruption among government officials is common. And the mineral deposits are found in areas with little government presence.

Officials say profits from illegal mining have helped armed militia groups in the northern part of the country.

The most recent arrests took place in mid-May. A joint team of soldiers and police officers carried out a raid on a market in Kishi, in southwestern Oyo State. Local people said the market had become a center for illegal trade in lithium mined in remote areas.

The three-day operation resulted in the arrest of 32 individuals. The state government said they included two Chinese nationals, local workers, and mineral traders. Lithium was also seized.

Jimoh Bioku is from Kishi. He said there had been secretive searches for the mineral in remote places in the past year by Chinese nationals. He said the Chinese paid people to dig for the mineral and turned the market into a mid-way point.

He added, the community was “worried about the insecurity that usually follows illegal mining.” He said that is why they reported it to the state government.

China and mining in Nigeria

China is the major producer of electric vehicles, or EVs, and supplies parts to other countries. China-owned companies employ mostly people leaving conflict and poor conditions in Nigeria’s far north. They work in mining operations throughout the country.

China’s nationals and companies are often criticized for damaging the environment, exploitative labor conditions and questionable or illegal mining. There have been at least three cases of illegal mining arrests involving Chinese nationals in recent months.

President Bola Tinubu has repeatedly blamed illegal mining for the worsening conflict in the country’s north. He has asked the international community for help.

The Chinese embassy in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, did not answer a request for comment from The Associated Press on the arrests and claims of illegal operations.

However, the embassy released a statement last year following a report by The Times of London. The report said Chinese miners were reportedly paying militants to let their operations continue. The embassy said it has always urged the Chinese companies and nationals in Nigeria to follow Nigerian laws and rules.

Nigeria is becoming a new source of lithium in Africa. The world’s largest producers, like Australia and Chile, are unable to meet the growing demand.

Emeka Okoro is with SBM Intelligence, a company based in the city of Lagos. Okoro said illegal activities are denying the government income. The company has researched illegal mining and terrorism financing in northern Nigeria.

A Nigerian industry group says the government loses $9 billion from the stealing of the resource each year. The government set up a group of 2,200 law enforcement officials earlier this year to fight the losses.

Before the raid in Kishi, the law enforcement group seized two trucks filled with lithium outside of Abuja in April. Later that month, the group raided an area in Karu, in Nasarawa State, near Abuja. That led to the arrest of four Chinese nationals and the seizure of tons of lithium.

Segun Tomori is a spokesperson for the solid minerals ministry. He said those cases are now in court.

On April 22, a federal court in the north-central area of Ilorin found two Chinese nationals guilty for illegal mining. The court sentenced them to a one-year jail term or a fine.

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Google Play VOA Learning English - Digdok